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Spokane Public Schools delays decision about naming new middle schools, still open to ideas

UPDATED: Thu., April 2, 2020

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

As the Spokane Public Schools board pondered whether to delay its name-the-school campaign Wednesday night, Director Kevin Morrison offered the timeliest suggestion of all.

“My personal choice is whoever makes the coronavirus vaccine,” Morrison quipped.

That drew a few welcome chuckles during a virtual meeting dominated by – what else? – the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on public education in Spokane.

But life goes on. Someday, the district will open three new middle schools, with names to be decided partly by public input.

The original goal was to take some suggestions, following a comprehensive campaign involving students, parents and the public, and to name the schools by June 30. But with the city distracted by the coronavirus, board members opted Wednesday to push the campaign back to the fall.

“I don’t feel like we have to stick to the timeline,” board member Nikki Lockwood said. “But we can still continue the engagement.”

Two board members offered the opinion that the naming exercise might just spark some lessons in Spokane history.

That led to a welcome compromise in which names will continue to be accepted on the district’s website. In fact, Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson noted about 80 suggestions have been submitted.

The three middle schools – approved by voters in 2018 as part of a $495 million capital bond – will be located in northwest Spokane (near Albi Stadium), in northeast Spokane (on Foothills Drive) and on the South Hill (adjacent to Mullan Road Middle School).

The district also is seeking a new name for the On Track Academy in northeast Spokane.

“It’s a unique opportunity,” Anderson said.

That’s no exaggeration. Chase Middle School, built in 1996 and named for former Spokane Mayor Jim Chase, is the district’s most recent middle school.

The guidelines are wide open. According to the district, a school can be named after a person “who made a noteworthy contribution to education, community, or society, a geographic characteristic based on location or primary function of the facility, or a logical association with the new school.”

Among the suggestions already floated: Longtime Spokane Congressman Tom Foley, who died in 2013; former national teacher of the year Mandy Manning; and lawyer and civil rights activist Carl Maxey, who died in 1997.

Local ties aren’t required. Moments after Morrison suggested naming a school after the creator of a new coronavirus vaccine, Anderson offered this footnote:

Dr. Jonas Salk from New York City, the namesake of Salk Middle School in north Spokane, developed one of the first successful polio vaccines.

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